In the 23 years since Ukraine’s independence, the change of elite in Ukraine actually never took place. The post-Soviet political system effectively blocked the younger generation from entering politics. At the same time, those few young people who managed to get in were bound to play by the old rules, soon becoming victimized by the system. This leads to the conclusion that a mere change of generation would not be enough to change the system. In addition, the Ukrainian educational system, often corrupt and isolated from the global academic community, contributes to the preservation of the current situation.
According to Kakha Bendukidze, studying abroad is what helps to eliminate the post-Soviet way of thinking, mostly owing to the host country’s overall environment rather than just the education itself. Likewise, the new-generation politician Lesya Orobets believes that western education encourages people to become results-oriented, thus breaking the old pattern of “coming up with a fancy story to justify the failure”.
Surprisingly, since Ukraine’s independence, the government machine never intended to engage professionals with western degrees and did not even collect data on the number of Ukrainian students studying abroad. Moreover, low public salaries combined with the ultimate inability to influence the decision-making processes deterred ambitious graduates from attempting to become “agents of change”.
The experience of the recent ex-Minister of Economics, Pavlo Sheremeta, who held his office for six months in 2014, proves that the system’s main concern is to retain the status quo and resist reforms by any means. This suggests that having fully functional teams of professionals join government institutions would be more likely to bring success where an individual reformist might fail, being unable to resist the system.
There has been a community of qualified experts in Ukraine for a long time, although it actually has had a very limited impact on the government so far. There are presumed to be over 400,000 Ukrainians who have diplomas from some of the best universities in the world, with approximately 60% of them having returned to Ukraine after their studies.
The momentous events of 2014 finally mobilized society, and encouraged it to put the government under pressure to initiate reforms. In particular, one of the successful examples so far has been the citizens’ initiative “Reanimation Package of Reforms.” In less than a year it produced important draft legislation, all of which was eventually transformed into laws passed by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s legislature, while some of the initiative leaders became MPs as a result of the October 2014 parliamentary elections.
The project’s conclusions and advisory opinion will be made available in due course.